The Power of a Shiny Object

Mark Forscher
3 min readMay 11, 2016


In early 2009 I was working at, before the company was sold for a dollar and before the merger with the Daily Beast. Every week I’d run through the status of projects in the design team’s queue with my boss, the General Manager of Digital. He’d actively listen to details of editorial projects, web and mobile product improvements, and marketing initiatives, before asking “where’s my shiny object?”

“ooooh shiiiiiiiny” –cat on right

The first time he asked, I said “what’s a shiny object?” He replied “I understand why you’re working on everything you’re working on. But I still want something cool I can point to that we did this week.” It didn’t have to be a big feature or a large time commitment, but he asked me to always find a way to work in something beyond what was expected that he could point to.

Despite everything going on, my boss had people he wanted to impress too.

A shiny object could be anything from a cool css link treatment in the site’s header to an editorial graphic, to a static design for a new product feature. Looking back on it now, I imagine he was having a lot of tough conversations in those days about the future of the business. Some unexpected detail, something novel and “un-serious” to serve as a small distraction, possibly helped lighten the mood for those harder conversations. A design detail for small talk and levity.

Startups need shiny objects too.

It’s been years since I’ve worked in-house at news organizations. But I’ve come to understand the power of shiny objects extends well beyond corporate culture. People, as you may have heard, want things to talk about.

I had a meeting this morning with a current client, a startup I’m working with on a minimum viable product. As we ran through the list of design needs and priorities, we discussed what they’d like to build for an initial launch to validate their concept. I suggested we add at least one shiny object we can include in the initial experience: a css transition or a small animation for users to discover.

This kind of thing is rarely identified as important on a list of features. It is inherently frivolous. But you only have one chance for a first impression. That little detail, especially when it’s unexpected, can really help people get excited about what you’re doing.

You’d be surprised how often potential clients reference this “shiny object” in the footer of my site

Give people something shiny to catch their attention and they’ll lighten up, even if it’s a “serious” product. People want to be excited about design. Give them something to talk about.

P.S. To be clear.. I would not encourage you to spend significant time on shiny objects or to use shiny objects inappropriately when your business is failing or in place of substance. Use your head, trust your heart, and make good decisions.


Mark Forscher is Principal of Under After, a Brooklyn-based design studio. Previously Mark was the in-house Creative Director for ABC News Digital, Newsweek Digital, and Code and Theory’s first Creative Director. Mark also creates music as Lost Waves.